Jacksonville Jaguars v. Indianapolis Colts: Game Preview/Scouting Report
Ok, I've had my fun with literature for the week. Now it's time to get serious and take a hard look at what we're facing on Sunday. With the Cowboys and Packers out of the way, our game is clearly the marquee event of the weekend. Before I get into things too deeply, I want to make one thing very clear.
Even if we beat the Colts, we still need help from Tennessee or Houston to Win the Division: Yeah, I know. It's a bummer. If we leave the RCA dome with a win, the Colts still have the Tie-breaker over the Jaguars until they lose to either the Texans or the Titans, both of which play Indianapolis at home later in December. Now, on the flip side, if Jacksonville loses (I hope not), as long as we beat Carolina and Oakland (both home games) we should have the 5th seed in the Playoffs. I guess what I'm saying is that the world does not end if we don't beat the Colts, and that the Jaguars sill hold the drivers seat in regards to going to the playoffs.
In fact, it's a good thing to go to Indianapolis knowing that win or lose, we're still likely to be a tough and weathered playoff team. Nobody will want a piece of the Jaguars in the post-season. Nobody.
Jacksonville Offense vs. Indianapolis Defense:
The Ground Attack: Jacksonville's offense lives or dies based on their rushing game. It all starts with the offensive line where Vince Manuwai on the left side and Tony Pashos on the right have gotten downright nasty in their run blocking. The Colts have an undersized defensive line and with the loss of Freeney, should be dominated in the running attack. Fred Taylor is coming off of his best game all season, Maurice Jones-Drew his worst, and in their own way that'll motivate them for a big day against the Colts.
To stop the rushing attack, two people need big games. Bob Sanders is the difference maker. You probably associate the Colts with a "Cover 2" defense, putting the safeties in a two deep zone while the cornerbacks cover up close both to stop the pass and to dive into run coverage. I'd expect that the Colts stay away from this, both due to the perceived weakness of the Jaguars receivers and the use of Bob Sanders as a run stuffer. Stampede Blue calls this the Bob Sanders Beat-Down Defense. In this, the Colts move from a Cover 2 into a Cover 3, Bob Sanders acts more like a linebacker in the box. This is dangerous for the Jaguars because he's very good at sniffing out the run as well as smart enough to read the quarterback and jump short routes.
Other than Sanders, I think the critiical matchup will be Jones-Drew and Taylor versus linebacker Gary Brackett. Brackett leads the Colts in tackles and will be the first line of defense (after, of course, the defensive line). He'll have a lot of speed to contend with in either back, and beating him should give the Jaguars good gains on the ground, no matter where Sanders is placed.
The last time we played the Colts, before Garrard was hurt, we came out throwing. Poorly. I'd like to see the Jaguars come out and attack the Colts on the ground, make them respect the pounders and use that to set up the passing game. Running the ball and running it well opens up the playbook for legitimate Play-Action passes, bootlegs, and moving the chains. If we become one dimensional, we'll be eaten alive.
The Passing Attack: Jacksonville faces a unique problem going into this weeks game. You see, the Jaguars spend a lot of time in a two tight end set, with one or two wide receivers, depending on if they're in a power-run formation (Two TE's, RB, FB, One WR) or a balanced (WR TE Offensive Line TE WR) set. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, two of their three Tight Ends went on Injured Reserve, leaving only Marcades Lewis and two quick signings to fill the void. Dirk Koetter really likes to throw to a tight end, especially on third down, and Greg Estandia/ George Wrightster did a very good job at keeping the chains moving in the Jaguars offense.
I can't overstate the fact that we "should" have David Garrard for a whole game. Some say he's overrated considering that he's not thrown for a tremendous amount of yards or touchdowns, but I tend to judge quarterbacks based on turnovers and wins, and by that metric David has been fantastic. He's playing the best football of his short career, and better than Manning (not Eli) at times this season. He's been running a lot of "hurry up" offense to keep defenses off guard, and I'd expect that to continue as we try and wear down a very quick Colts defense. Crowd Noise could be an issue, but it's not like we're not used to playing in the RCA dome.
Of course, with the Colts using the Cover 3 it "should" leave a good matchup for our very tall wide receivers on the sidelines, both Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford have at least 4 inches on the Colts smaller (cover 2) cornerbacks. This could be key, as the Jaguars will have to decide early whether to run to set up the pass or pass to set up the run. This is where the Colts try and bait Garrard into making mistakes while trying to beat them through the air.
With the loss of the tight ends, I'd expect the Jaguars to return to a three Wide Receivers set, with Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford on the edges, and Dennis Northcutt in the slot. In recent weeks it's seemed as though Reggie has really come alive with three touchdowns in his last 4 games, all of which were critical scores. Ernest Wilford has been Mr. 3rd down as his catches keep Jaguars drives alive. The Jaguars couldn't have picked a better time to come alive with their receivers with the damage at Tight End. Don't expect much out of Matt Jones, but he'll be active for sure and see more time as part of the receiver rotation. Until he fails to run block well enough and gets benched. I just hope to god we don't see any terrible fade passes to Jones in the End Zone.
Indianapolis Offense vs. Jacksonville Defense:
The Ground Attack: I don't know what's going to happen with Marvin Harrison. Because he's missed practice twice so far this week, I'm gonna operate under the assumption he's not playing and hope to god I'm right. WIth Marvin out of the picture, don't be surprised to see the Colts use Joseph Addai (the 2nd best RB in last year's draft, behind Jones-Drew) to come out pounding. When the Colt's get frustrated they go back to their old favorite, the stretch play that somehow always gets them good yards no matter how predictable they get with it.
Of course, that just gives credit to how well they execute the play.
The Colt's have a bit of trouble on their offensive line right now, and we don't know very well who's going to be playing or not. Sadly, we don't really get a clear picture until friday afternoon, and that's a bit too late for my purposes. Yes, the Colts run block well, but with changes and injuries on the line, it won't be as effective as normal. That said, they are well coached and talented, and I don't expect Tony to go too far away from the Ground Attack.
Jacksonville is playing without DT Marcus Stroud and Middle Linebacker Mike Peterson in the middle. Paul Spicer has been a beast filling in for Stroud, and the combination of Daryl Smith, Justin Durant, and Clint Ingram did just fine without Peterson against the Bills. But, of course, that was against a 2nd string running back and a bad offensive line. This week will be the first serious challenge for Durant against a "real" offense. He's fast and reads the play well, but he's got to make sure he wraps up the tackles and makes the play.
Sammy Knight is sort of the Bob Sanders of our defense. He's not the fastest, but he can read plays and jump routes as well as anyone in the league. Sammy's role will be defined by the presence of Marvin Harrison, as if we go against Wayne/Harrison we'll be a different defense entirely rather than if Harrison sits. Look for Sammy to creep toward the line on obvious run/short yardage situations.
The Passing Attack: You know just about all you need to know about the Quarterback. Manning can beat you deep, he can beat you in the zones, he can beat man coverage. The question is, who will he throw it to? If they have Harrison, Wayne, and Clark, there could be some match up problems. I'd imagine that the Jaguars activate Aaron Glenn for this one, just to have three solid receivers for nickel situations. I have no doubt that should Harrison be inactive, the Jaguars approach to the passing game changes.
You see, other than Reggie Wayne, the Colts wide receivers consist of Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Gonzales, and Craphonso Thorpe. I'd feel pretty comfortable with Rashean Mathis, Reggie Nelson, and Brian Williams covering and shutting down any of those. With Harrison, it becomes a little dicier, especially with TE Dallas Clark set to beat you down the seam.
Which brings us to the fundamental question of the game.
Do I Rush or do I Cover: Here it is folks, the key to the game. Do we attack Manning with the blitz, or do we drop nine in coverage and play the zone. Do you risk Manning beating you deep or do you risk long drives of short gains? To win this game, in my opinon, we have to attack, attack, attack. Manning must go down, and he must go down hard. He has to be uncomfortable in the pocket, particulary up the middle. Mannning is no Tony Romo, he won't scramble to the sides. If we can get effective pressure up the middle, force him to hurry his throws, maybe react to the pass rush a little earlier than he should, we can get the mental mistakes that can turn the tide.
He's a very good quarterback, but he's got some problems on his offensive line that could be exploited and reduce (but not eliminate) the Passing threat.
But I don't think we can survive a game where we sit in the zones. The Colts offense is suited toward taking the small gains and putting points on the board. Our offense is good, but do we want to get into a shoot out with the Kings of Shoot outs?
I don't think so.
I know, blitzing Manning is a huge risk. But I think not blitzing is just as foolish, given what happened on Monday Night. Mike Smith is a hell of a good defensive coordinator, he's smart enough to know what has to be done.
Three Things we must do to win the game
- Attack the Quarterback: he must go down, he must go down hard
- Run the Ball: nothing else will work if we can't pound the ball.
- Play mistake free ball: We're not making dumb mistakes this season, that trend has to continue. No dumb penalties, no turnovers, no mistakes.
- (A free extra thing) Make one play in each phase of the game. If our Offense, Defense and Special Teams can each make that one extra big play, we'll win the game. Let's see a long TD Pass, a critical game situaiton interception by the defense, and a huge kick return. Football is a game of inches, of little things, let's do that one extra thing and win this.